Anger can be a considerable gift. It can spur us to action and cause us to make necessary changes. But I think somehow that our culture’s sort of lost its way when it comes to channeling that anger in constructive ways. I really think a lot of that has to do with religious programming, but weirdly, that programming’s produced a nation full of people with anger management issues. It’s like we’re all just terrified of it and ignore it and avoid it at all costs, so when it bursts free from the bottling-up we’ve tried to contain it with, it tends to just spill everywhere and make a huge mess. (Hmm, I did make it sound kind of lurid there, didn’t I?)
The news is filled lately with incidents of Christian overreach. That SCOTUS decision about contraception is just one of them, but there are many others. It’s natural that we’ll feel some anger and frustration about these events. I kinda wanted to say something here about it:
Use your anger wisely and ethically.
Pick your targets carefully and well.
I’ve seen a lot of photos and stories lately about people messing up Hobby Lobby shelves and yelling at store managers and stuff. And folks, seriously, please don’t do that, okay? Don’t applaud it, don’t encourage it, and don’t do it yourselves. Making trouble for employees is about the worst way possible of dealing with our very proper anger over this business’ treatment of its employees.
The stockers and cashiers at these places–even the managers!–have less to say about Hobby Lobby’s policies than you or I even do. You’re making a mess that some poor, overworked peon’s going to have to come along and clean up, maybe making him or her late to go home, making that person’s life miserable, and for what? You’re not sending a message to Hobby Lobby’s owners. You think they seriously care if some peons have to work an extra hour or two fixing the damage you’ve done? If they actually gave two shits about the marginalized low-wage workers toiling in their stores, we wouldn’t even be having this problem with them.
In the same way, don’t yell at the Chik-Fil-A lady at the drive-thru window. She may have no idea what’s going on with her company’s gay-bashing policies. She’s probably just happy to have a job that guarantees her one weekend day off a week. She may totally agree with the policies or she may not, but yelling at her won’t do anything to change them or make her suddenly disagree with them.
You might as well go berate a janitor at the movie theater for all the “gritty reboots” and sequels filling the screens. If you’re a miserable example of humanity that might make you feel better for a little while, but it won’t actually fix any problems and it just hurts a person who can’t do anything to help you and is just as angered by the system you dislike as you are. (Heck, that employee might dislike it even more than you do.)
Worst of all, these employees’ jobs usually depend on being nice to customers, which means they are voiceless and impotent to protect and defend themselves against those customers’ attacks. Making their lives hellish just to feel like you did something concrete with your anger is nothing more than bullying.
Don’t let privileged people set unprivileged people at each other’s throats. Remember that thing I was talking about earlier, “let’s you and him fight”? That’s what’s going on when you take your anger out on someone who can’t fight back and is as oppressed as you are by the situation at hand. It’s misdirected aggression and it’s not going to help at all.
You know how you really send a clear message to privileged bigots and assholes?
You hit them in the wallet.
As Eddie Murphy’s character Billy Ray Valentine said in the very awesome movie Trading Places, “the best way you hurt rich people is by turning them into poor people.”
So that’s what we do.
Go to their website. They have a “contact” link. Use it.
Make sure that the business owners you’re upset with know that you are not stepping foot in their stores anymore. Make sure they know why. Be polite, concise, and clear about what will get you back in their stores. If you’ve spent money there before now, then outline generally how much you spent and what you bought–let them envision in their minds you at the register with those purchases–and then tell them that you’ll be spending that money elsewhere from now on. (As this link outlines, also do make sure you do your homework so you know that the problem you’re seeing is a real problem and not an urban legend.) And then, of course, follow up on the boycott threat by not buying anything from them at all.
Your lone letter won’t make a lot of difference. When I did it, I got a not-pology back from Hobby Lobby whining about “religious freedom” and “sincerely held beliefs.” So I wrote back with the great news that none of the medications they opposed actually caused abortion so they could drop this awful attempt to control their employees’ bodies, with lots of links so they could follow up for themselves. Unsurprisingly, I never got a reply back. But I stood firm and refused to let their rhetoric sway me. I knew what my goal was, and I knew the arguments involved. I didn’t yell at the customer service guy who wrote the letter to me; he had as little control over Hobby Lobby as I did. I was polite and tried to be sympathetic to him. I was very firm in addressing my concern and anger toward the right target and I asked him to pass the letter on to the right people.
This procedure is the same one I follow when I write to my elected officials, which I do about once a year; I don’t want to be a pest, but I think it’s important for people to make sure their elected officials know where they stand on things. Do they take my letters seriously? I’m sure they don’t–not by themselves. These largely male, all-white, mega-religious ignorant old farts are about as Republican as it gets, and they all consider elected office as a sort of country club with meetings. They probably don’t give a damn what one person says. Not individually.
But we’re not alone, and that’s the beauty of this idea. Alone you probably won’t do much at all, but really you’ll be a drop in a bucket, and that bucket will become a tidal wave deluge of drops.
Hobby Lobby might be able to dismiss one letter, two, a dozen as cranks, but when they start seeing all these letters dropped in like the Hogwarts letters from all those owls, if you think they won’t get a vision from Jesus advising them to quit meddling in their employees’ private lives, you’re very mistaken. Churches do this all the time when their bottom lines are finally recognized to be at stake. Remember how the Mormon church was way into polygamy and institutionalized racism–until it was either give those up or get in serious trouble with the United States or participate in some super-important basketball games? Remember how quickly in each case they got visions from their god that maybe they could stop doing that now? It was just amazing how quickly those long-held, deep convictions shifted when a serious threat appeared. When hardline conservative Christian leaders finally realize what damage they’ve done to themselves with their war on LGBTQ people, you can bet they’ll figure something out as well.
This capitulation doesn’t just happen in religion, either. Under pressure from consumers, McDonald’s put tighter restrictions on its suppliers for more humane treatment of chickens. The FDA hadn’t been able to force them to make that change, but when the bottom line got threatened, McDonald’s themselves made that shift and they did it with remarkable speed considering the sheer size of their operation. In the same way, when consumers began voicing concern about and avoiding products made with high fructose corn syrup, companies began to notice the drop in sales and reformulated their products to use less (or none) of it.
Like many modern fundagelicals, the owners of Hobby Lobby say they’re abusing their employees in the name of Jesus, but make no mistake, friends: they’re not running a non-profit operation there. They want to make money. And I’m telling you right now that if the backlash gets serious enough, they’ll find some way to reconcile their tender widdle fee-fees with employees having full access to contraception in the third-party insurance plans that those employees pay for with their own paychecks just like they pay for all kinds of other things that would probably make Hobby Lobby’s weird Republican version of Baby Jesus cry tears of blood.
But that backlash won’t come from people vandalizing Hobby Lobby stores or giving clerks and managers a tough time.
If you’re angry about an injustice, use your anger wisely. Target the people who actually matter, the people who actually will care about losing your business or attention, the people who can actually make the changes needed to be made. Don’t torture people who are suffering under those business owners. It’s not their fault, and it’s wrong to do things to make them suffer even more in the rush to protest their suffering.
We’re going to talk next time about something I’ve been thinking about lately–how certain group affiliations let people borrow status and personal power. Ever heard of a BMOC? Well, they ain’t just men, and they ain’t just on campuses. See you next time, friends.
* Don’t Do This. Shakespeare’s Sister explains beautifully why vandalizing stores isn’t an effective or constructive use of anger. If you’re not following her blog, you should be. I don’t say this about many blogs, but this one’s really an essential read.